Narrowing the Racial Achievement Gap
What's being done to help encourage more black and Latino students to excel in
"gatekeeper" math and science classes, like algebra and biology? Don't they
need extra help to gain the confidence and skills to take higher-level,
college-prep math and science and aim their career sights higher?
In some poor urban and rural schools with lots of minority
students, the dropout rate may approach 80%. According to the National
Assessment of Educational Progress, 43% of black 12th graders and
58% of Latinos test "below basic" in math. And according to the Urban
Institute, half of black, Native American and Latino ninth-graders will not
graduate in four years.
A lot of the reason for this is that students lack basic math skills,
for various reasons. But there's hope. Several years ago the Providence, R.I., school district began requiring that all students take
higher-level mathematics as part of the College Board's Equity 2000 initiative.
Today, 97% of Latino and African-American students there take algebra, compared with only 37% of black students and 27% of Hispanic students in 1991. (Article,
"Achievement Gap Widening, Study Reports," Education
Week, Dec. 4, 1996)
Compare that to dismal findings by the Comprehensive Partnerships
for Mathematics and Science Achievement, a project of the National Science Foundation.
It found that in the Omaha Public Schools in 1995-96, for example, only 9% of
ninth-graders who were members of minority groups completed algebra. That same
year, only 4% of the district's minority graduates had passed physics, biology
or chemistry, compared to 26% of white students.
What's the difference? Usually, it takes one or more individuals
who are absolutely determined to make math happen for disadvantaged kids. Often
it is a charismatic teacher who may battle with school authorities, but with
creativity and passion, can turn a seemingly helpless situation around for poor
kids. The reason it's important: without good math skills and the principles of
algebra, especially, no matter how gifted a student is otherwise, it is tough
to succeed in higher-level high-school math and science courses, much less in
most any major in college, or most any career.
Here are some of the most successful programs around. They ought
to be studied, and emulated:
The Banneker programs (www.bannekermath.org)
The Algebra Project (www.algebra.org)
Everyday Mathematics (www.everydaymath.uchicago.edu,
and note: not recommended for middle- or high-achieving students, but good for
those who need more of a foundation)
Saxon Mathematics (www.saxonpub.com)
Gates Foundation "Early College High
General Electric Foundation College
GEAR UP, TRIO and State Scholars
Initiative (federal programs)
more about the inspiring story of 1960s radical Robert Moses, and what he has
done to improve math education for inner-city minority youth in The Algebra